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Deception IV: Blood Ties Review (PS3/Vita): “The reason we have the ESRB”

Deception IV Cover

Have you ever gone through a game and thought to yourself: “Man, the bad guys are always overpowered. Where’s my amazing abilities and cheap combos?” Well wonder no more. Deception IV places you on the other side of the story, as in, the ‘oh so good to be bad’ side! Utilizing an incredible arsenal of various traps used to surprise, torment, combo, torture and ultimately finish off your enemies, you may have to adjust to the feeling of being… evil. Do you have the stomach for it?

Story: 2/5

You play as Laegrinna, a seemingly innocent looking, adorable and calm mannered girl… who is also the daughter of the devil. Together with your three daemon “witches”, you have set out to claim 12 magical verses inscribed on slabs that bind your father (the devil) in the afterlife, keeping him from reigning over the world. By recovering all of the verses, held by descendants of the virtuous and holy who bound the devil, Laegrinna will be able to undo the imprisonment and give the earth back to the most powerful and “deserving”.

Deception IV Gameplay 3

Deception IV never really goes into detail about why Laegrinna is trying to bring back her father. Other than being evil, and taking over the world is what evil people do, you primarily have to just go with it. Some repetitive dialogue cutscenes detail the game’s 12 chapters as you progress from one location to the next, collecting verses off of fallen bosses. Again, while there is really no explanation given (or needed), the owners of the verses seem to be attracted to the other verses, allowing you to basically sit and wait for the next hot shot to come in seeking glory for slaying the “witch”.

Deception IV never really builds a decent climax, or shrinks down to a low, it’s a pretty steady paced game without a real enticing plot line. In fact, the one recurring sequence of mystery potentially holding an exciting twist or story development is completely forgotten and never given any substance, making the completion of the story seem merely inconsequential. To be honest, if this is what it’s like to progress as the bad guy, I’d rather be a henchman without a name tag, but at least a life outside of taking over the world.

Nonetheless, I have to give credit for taking everything we have come to know as a “noble quest” and completely flipping it on its side. Being evil throughout the story actually did make me feel less empathetic towards my enemies and more focused on the end goal, by any means necessary. While I definitely can’t say I was engrossed in the story, I will admit that the progression pace and dialogue from time to time did enhance the gameplay slightly.

Deception IV Gameplay 1

Gameplay: 5/5

​What’s interesting about Deception IV is that you don’t play as some all-powerful character able to cruise their way through to the end based on self-growth alone; you need the demonic help of three “witches” – or daemons. Caelea, the daemon of elaborate death, Veruza, the daemon of sadistic torment, and Lilia, the daemon of humiliating demise, aid in your retrieval of the verses as well as most of the dialogue in the game. In fact, you have almost no powers, other than to call on the powers of your daemons. Laegrinna is actually very weak and she cannot fight. Instead, she uses carefully placed traps to ensnare victims and rob them of their lives. Each location is set up like a grid, with each square being a spot you can place certain traps. There are three types of traps: wall, ceiling and floor – being that each type of trap will appear from one of those locations. Your three daemons dictate what each trap may be themed after. Elaborate traps have a specific inclination to link other traps together, creating large combos by which you can hurl enemies around, inflicting more and more damage as more traps are used. Sadistic traps are used predominately to inflict damage. They work very well to get past defenses as well as catch an enemy off guard. Humiliation traps however are merely meant to amuse. While they are sort of in between the other two types, they really have a knack for bringing the funny out in death (picture a giant yo-yo crushing someone).

Deception IV Gameplay 5

​You start off with only a handful of traps to use. However, as you progress, earning more elaborate, sadistic or humiliation points, you can buy new traps with a never explained currency called “warl”. The different traps appear to be never ending, constantly adding new possibilities to torture and kill enemies. While some appear to be similar, they often hold different qualities which can affect enemies in different ways. There are a handful of different categories of traps as well. While wall, ceiling and floor dictate how the trap will appear and can be placed, there are subcategories that give reason as to how the trap functions and affects enemies. For example, there are fire traps which burns enemies, enrage traps that cause the enemy to forgo their inclination to avoid harm’s way, as well as crushing, freeze, electric, piercing (etc) traps. Utilizing different types of traps is the key to defeating different enemies.

The enemies in Deception IV are all given personalities. Some are knights, assassins, brawlers and even regular townspeople, and each are given a backstory which may help in determining their weaknesses, as well as how they will perform on the battlefield. For example, many townspeople will run when they get hurt, while knights will chase you down even if they are an inch within death. Also, some enemies wear armor or hold particular abilities which may disable the use of different types of traps against them. Some enemies can jump over obstacles, sense traps or even heal themselves and others. All enemies learn where traps have been placed as well as try their very best to kill you, so when you’re pitted against up to three enemies, you need to be wise about who to attack first.

Deception IV Gameplay 4

​As stated before, pairing different types of traps against enemies in a combo is the key to success (and by success, I mean mercilessly killing them without a second’s thought). Some enemies will be resistant or invulnerable to different types of traps. Resistant to a trap means that type of trap (electric/crushing/blinding) will not affect them if used first in a combo. However, link it after the enemy has been taken by a different trap and you can use it against them. Invulnerable however means that no matter how much you try, you cannot use that type of trap against them – so stock up on traps wisely! Enemies wearing armor will also take less damage from traps, so breaking it is essential. You can do this by carefully performing a trap combo, including the enemy’s weakness in the chain, then launching them into the air. The trick is that you never really know the enemy’s weakness. Many can be determined from the character’s brief backstory, but most of the time you’re left to a trial-and-error scenario.

​Overall, the pure strategy needed to defeat even the most menial enemies is extremely satisfying, but when a boss is thrown into the mix, you really need to plan out your attacks carefully. The surprising thing about Deception IV is that even though the strategy is fundamentally the same for each enemy, and you may utilize the same trap sequence over and over again, I never got tired of it. Location is an important element in the game, as traps are placed in a grid lock formation and enemies obviously do not move square-by-square, so getting a large trap combo to successfully land is extremely rewarding. Timing as well as knowledge of how your enemy will progress are both very important; and therefore you truly feel as though you are meticulously planning each individual’s demise, giving off the feeling of being a higher entity than those who oppose you. Nonetheless, boss fights and multiple enemies coming for your head provide an excruciating challenge and should not be taken lightly. Proper preparation and careful planning are wildly rewarded.

Deception IV Gameplay 2

​As you progress through the story, you will encounter different challenges provided by your daemons, rewarding you with appropriate point boosts to each particular theme (elaborate/sadistic/humiliation). These often include utilizing arena specific traps. Traps that are placed within the arena offer type boosts as well as continued combo potential. There are also larger traps in arenas dubbed “trap-mobiles”. These mobile traps require high levels of strategy to engage but reward you with large point and damage boosts, as well as a special quicktime event if you kill an enemy with them! Completing these challenges in story missions give you large boosts in character progression, which is beneficial toward unlocking new traps. However, if you would like another opportunity to earn new traps, there are other game modes. Missions give specific qualifications that need to be met for completion, and free battle allows you to set the goals. While only missions give the currency (warl) to buy new traps, free battle gives the opportunity to create, share, and download other’s challenges. As a whole, there is plenty of game to experience, especially as the strategy incorporated into the game makes the story chapters and missions take much longer than anticipated, without any loss to enjoyment. There is just something about brutally torturing a righteous soul beyond that of forgiveness that makes you candidly understand what it is like to be evil.

Deception IV Gameplay 8

Graphics: 3/5

​Most of the locations in Deception IV are dark and dismal arenas of death (as fitting to the nature of the game), therefore there really isn’t any room for a “wow factor”. Light effects are near non-existent, even when flickering torches light a hallway and character repetition, as well as pixilation, can be faintly distracting at the start of the game. While textures do add depth and feel to the game, the real quality is in the traps. Each trap is beautifully rendered when in comparison to the rest of the game, and since this is what you’re mostly focusing on during gameplay, you will hardly have time to notice the under-equipped details in the environments. A thrilling zoom follow feature allows you to lock-on to enemies to get a close-up angle to the action, letting you follow their horrendously painful demise. You can also use this feature to plan the start of a combo, or anticipate attacks from afar. On the PS3 version of Deception IV, you can also record and upload to YouTube the combo sequences from this perspective!

The primary drawback in Deception IV are that cutscenes are merely dialogue events, showcasing protagonists and antagonists as cutout characters with text underneath. This never gives the game an opportunity to go beyond the quality found in the gameplay. However, as stated, the trap effects and textures supersede the rest of the game and allow to you forget the weaker portions of the graphical quality.

Deception IV Gameplay 6

Sound: 4/5

​The eeriness of a deserted castle or the playful terror of an old amusement park are captured wonderfully by the soundtrack in Deception IV; and more importantly do not interfere with the intense calculations needed to strategically plan an attack on an unsuspecting enemy. The reactions to the torment of said attack are a different story however. The screams of agony from enemies as they’re ripped to shreds by a descending saw blade tend to get slightly annoying. That’s not just the removal of all empathy the game has installed in me taking over, the enemy’s voices can be really annoying. Most of the voices from enemies are reused and therefore get old pretty quickly, but then again how many different types of screams do you want? Luckily, you can turn down voice sound effects if you find the repetitive sounds of anguish too much to endure. While main character’s voices are clearly different and seemingly fitting to their composure, you will have to deal with everything being in Japanese.

Again, the traps take the glory here as each sound effect adds real weight and life to the effects of the torture inflicted upon your enemy. The real benefit to these sound effects is the ability to utilize them in completing combos. More often than not, I found myself overwhelmed with enemies, therefore not able to zoom and lock-on to an enemy to correctly time a combo. By listening to the trap effects, I was able to tell when one had finished and when to start another, thus prolonging my combo and allowing me to finish off an enemy easier. The enemy’s screams were also a very distinct indication of when a trap had successfully struck, giving more success to the strategy and careful attention to detail necessary to finish off an enemy. After some getting used to the game, I found the sound effects were mostly well balanced, but you can tweak them generally to fit your preferences.

Deception IV Gameplay 7

Overall Score: 14/20 = 7.0 out of 10
Coming in completely blind to the series, I had no clue what I was getting myself into. While playing as the bad guy (erm… girl) set me off guard for a minute, I quickly found it an enjoyable change of pace. Gameplay is extremely addictive and unlocking new traps is exceedingly enticing, only to be overshadowed by the pure ecstasy of landing a devastating trap combo. While the graphical quality isn’t distracting, I felt it could have been improved, especially considering the lack of resources necessary for the cutscenes. The sound effects were substantial for traps, but tended to get repetitive for characters, even if it helped to understand where they were at in my cycle of death. Quickly into the game, I became enthralled with tormenting my adversaries, and that feeling never seemed to subside. If you don’t mind being a part of the statistic that shows why we clearly need the ESRB, I would highly recommend picking this game up.

Pros:
+ Wonderful strategy element
+ A plethora of traps to choose from
+ Zoom and lock on feature clever and useful
+ Challenge level provoking and rewarding
+ Being evil is fun!

Cons:
– ‘Cutscenes’ were merely dialogue
– Weak story element
– Screams got annoying
– Environment quality inconsistent with the features of the game

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Deception IV: Blood Ties! Copy reviewed on both PS3 & PS Vita.

Enjoy our review? Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter: @GamersXTREME for the latest in gaming news and reviews.

Curious to how our review system works? Check out the About section.

Ragnarok Odyssey ACE Review (PS3/Vita): “Not the Improvement You’re Looking For”

Ragnarok Odyssey ACE Wallpaper

Ragnarok Odyssey ACE is an expansion off of the already released Ragnarok Odyssey, a high flying, cartoon-ish hunting game. It takes the original gameplay and story, adds a few new tricks and improvements, as well as some rather menacing looking monsters and throws it back in your hands for another chance to save the kingdom. Does ACE fill the gaps that the last one left behind? Or do its changes add a new layer of complexity too confusing to stand on its own?

Story: 2/5

Ace’s story is the same as the past title, Ragnarok Odyssey. Basically, you’re a new knight recruit who’s stationed at the rear defense of a kingdom – a very important location. Your sole job is to make sure the front lines don’t need to worry about their backs. How do you do this? Kill everything. When it’s that simple, there really isn’t a huge need for a story, but Ragnarok Odyssey tries one anyway. You’ll find yourself being presented with a quasi-mystery as to why certain monsters are attacking, where they’re coming from, and how to stop them. A bombardment of caddy jokes, humungous text and a plethora of seemingly unnecessary dialogue help fill the downtime between quests; but to be completely honest, none of it serves any further purpose than a time filler. All you need to know are the basics: something is attacking, we need to kill it. Sadly, that’s about as in-depth as the game even reasons with the events that take place. While I did appreciate some of the categorizing of the enemies the story did, which made it seem like we really were fighting a war against an organized army of monsters, as well as the locations which tied nicely into how the story progressed, there wasn’t much for me to really grab a hold of. In the end, I wanted nothing more than to skip all the dialogue and just get back to killing things.

Ragnarok Odyssey ACE Gameplay 1

Gameplay: 3/5

Thankfully for the story’s sake, the gameplay is where the true enjoyment of the game lies. ACE progresses with a nicely paced tutorial that gives you freedom to figure things out on your own, but holds enough of the new expansion content to deliver out in doses. If you’ve played Ragnarok Odyssey before, you’ll be instantly familiar with how the game works. You have 6 classes to choose from, each with a specific weapon and abilities. Attacks are initiated in a 2-button combo manner, one button initiates a normal attack pattern and another will deviate that pattern to an alternate path to execute a special attack. Ragnarok Odyssey takes it a step further and adds vertical plane attacks to the mix, allowing you to jump into the air to carry out a full combo however you choose. However, if you’ve played Ragnarok Odyssey before, you’ll also notice a few attacks are missing from each class. That’s because certain abilities or attacks got removed to accommodate the new ACE skills. These are essentially MMO-like abilities mapped to a button combination or touch screen location. While progressing through the story, you will unlock different skills for each class that you can purchase, equip (up to 4) and use at the cost of some stamina. It’s a small disappointment that certain abilities had to be cut out from the normal attack patterns to make room for the skills, but the extra unlockable skills are definitely strong and fun enough to make the process worth it. This also creates a larger presence of the class system, forcing you to really pay attention to what role you want to play when going out on a hunt… if only there were more than 2 roles. Unless you play as a cleric, you’re going to be strictly on the offensive. While the skills for each class appear to create more of a specialized teamwork effect, they’re really just creating more ways to deal damage, something that is great but could really use some attention in a game focused on 4 player co-op. You’ll also need to be careful about these ACE skills as they consume a lot of stamina – something very valuable in the ever moving play style of Ragnarok Odyssey. Accidentally hit a button combination for an ACE skill and you’ll be stuck initiating an unrecoverable attack while draining your stamina. While there are a few button layout presets, none of them removed the combinations to activate ACE skills, even if the touch screen function works twice as well. In fact, the button layout that once was smooth with Ragnarok Odyssey has since been overloaded in ACE, requiring multiple “claw” configurations, as well as an inefficient and poorly executed lock-on feature. Word to the wise: using lock-on will mess with your camera angles and it should be avoided all together.

Ragnarok Odyssey ACE Gameplay 3

Although performing a few actions can feel a little “chunky” or out-of-place, the gameplay is enjoyable for the most part. While strategy gets lost almost completely as minions and boss enemies can juggle you like a circus act gone wrong, there is a handy berserk mode that allows you to dish out all the suffering that’s resulted from your frustration of the enemy’s clear advantage over your slow recoveries and easily flinch-able demeanor. This is mostly rectified by playing online, allowing the monsters to focus on someone else while you frantically try to recover, but for single player, this constant focus can be quite the challenge. Luckily in ACE, there’s a solution! For a nominal fee, you can hire AI controlled sand bags to act as allies in your hunts offline! They never really do anything other than die repeatedly (which doesn’t count against you), but they make great distractions.

Hunting games are all about the monsters. Defeating a monster, taking its parts to build something amazing to destroy the next, and repeating the process until you have a whole room of armor and weapons strung on the walls like trophies…unless you’ve taken a hunting game and turned it into a roulette easter egg hunt. One of the main things that bothered me about Ragnarok Odyssey was that you never really needed to farm a monster for its parts. Armor and weapon creation were easily done and really unnecessary as the weapons paled in comparison to what you could find off of enemies and armor simply did nothing for you. Most of that hasn’t changed in ACE, as armor merely adds slots for cards (I’ll get to that in a minute) and weapons you can craft always seem to be a chapter behind. It’s almost like the developers knew this as they attempted to implement a new weapon system into the game. “Halomonas” weapons are a new system that basically render every other weapon pointless. You can build up and evolve them by completing certain tasks, resulting in the weapon acquiring a new skill. Perform enough tasks and the weapon will evolve to a new weapon along its tree. Sadly, skills learned from completed tasks delete the old skill, but at least they’re insanely strong. You get your first Halomonas weapon for free towards the beginning of the story, and in all honesty, you can use that weapon and your first armor to complete the game no problem – that’s what I did.

Ragnarok Odyssey ACE Gameplay 2

Let’s get back to those cards for a minute though. While armors do nothing more than provide a cool look (seriously, some are awesome looking!), they do have one important role: holding cards. You can socket armors with different cards you acquire randomly by defeating monsters. These cards have a plethora of different skills that they contain, from stat boosts to skill-altering capabilities. This is where the true planning comes into play, as cards can make or break a battle. Many cards have a “give and take” effect where there may be consequences for the boost you gain. This really adds a highly appreciated level of strategy to how you prepare for a battle as you need to weigh the pros and cons of your loadout. Then again you could just farm a monster for a better card that doesn’t have any negatives.

In the end I found that monster farming was nearly pointless once I had a decent loadout. Without needing drops for weapons or armor, the game quickly lost its replayability. The sheer lack of variety in monsters also made me feel like I was just doing the exact same quests over and over again. Re-skins and extremely similar attack patterns across different monsters creates a very repetitive experience for the player, even with the new monster(s) loaded into the expansion. Thankfully though, there are plenty of quests to embark on if you’re a “completionist”, including both offline and online quests (with cross-platform online play with the PS3 version)! Teaming up with a group of four is definitely the way to play the game and immediately increases the amount you’ll enjoy the game. It’s a shame that the skills weren’t more expanded to accommodate better teamwork as it seemed to at the start of the game.

Ragnarok Odyssey ACE Gameplay 4

Graphics: 4/5

While many games try to create a darker image when living the life of a mercenary, Ragnarok Odyssey creates a vivid, near cartoonish experience. Colors pop and draw you into small details, while attack effects glow and shine rapidly to create a feeling of pure mysticism and fantasy. Armors and weapons are beautifully rendered and detailed, even in the middle of battle. The variation in locations ensures you won’t tire of seeing the same scenery, which is a definite must-have for large questing games. However, enter a room online with a full party and you’ll find all of those effects and details create a major issue with the frame rate. Even offline playing solo, certain boss attacks would quickly deplete the game’s power resulting in a choppy experience and usually my character being attacked (then juggled and killed).

Ragnarok Odyssey ACE Gameplay 5

Sound: 4/5

Like most fantasy games, the music is uplifting and enticing, creating a positive atmosphere for a productive day of slaughtering monsters. Weapon attacks have a real weight to them when backed by such impactful sound effects, really adding to the fights. Ragnarok Odyssey also does a very bold move and allows you to choose your own background music. Purchasable at the item shop in the town, you can select from a large number of tracks to play in the background as you hunt. Even online, the host is allowed to select the music for everyone to hear, which can really create some powerful and unique experiences! While some effects are reused across completely different monsters, the rest of the game is a pure delight to play with a pair of nice headphones, really giving homage to the vast array of music at your disposal.

Ragnarok Odyssey ACE Gameplay 6

Overall Score: 13/20 = 6.5 out of 10

Ragnarok Odyssey ACE takes a hunting game previously set in its ways and attempts to uproot it to be something else. The entire time, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this should be made into an MMO. The new skills and Halomonas weapon system gave insight to something that really holds potential and even though different armors proved are mostly pointless, they are awesome looking! A few small, but drastic improvements such as item recycling and the ability to change loadouts, upgrade weapons and armors all within the online hall were welcomed with open arms; but in the end, the game still has the same issues it has had in the previous installment: too few different monsters and a system almost entirely based on random luck for improvement (weapon and card drops). The drops almost seemed more infrequent than the past entry and the inability to improve your character how you see fit (with the partial exception to Halomonas weapons) is a major replay killer. With strategy severely lacking, there isn’t much holding this game together from a gameplay perspective, but if you can tough it out, you’ll be rewarded with a wonderful soundtrack and some gorgeous visuals to treat that fantasy addiction.

Pros:

+ Nice visual details

+ Selecting your own background music creates the right mood

+ Card system has plenty of options for character improvement

Cons:

– Lack of different monsters, weapons and armors

– New skill & weapon system were a major disappointment (but has great potential)

– Any size enemy can juggle you

– Small strategy involved in a co-op themed game

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Ragnarok Odyssey ACE! Copy reviewed on PS Vita.

Enjoy our review? Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter: @GamersXTREME for the latest in gaming news and reviews.

Curious to how our review system works? Check out the About section.

OlliOlli Interview: Vita Exclusivity Garnered It “Extra Coverage”, Developer Working on “Two More Projects”

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Recently, we reviewed Roll 7’s latest indie hit on the PS Vita, OlliOlli (which I scored a 9.5 in our review). Today, Tom Hegarty provided us with an interview about how the game was first conceived, how it became a Vita exclusive, and much more behind the premise of the title.

Marcello: When and how did the idea of OlliOlli come about?

Tom: OlliOlli was initially dreamt up by John, our Creative Director. He was 13 at the time and had two main passions, Gaming and Skateboarding, so you can see how the basic idea was formed! This was all happening in the mid 90’s so the fact the game uses a pixel art and a retro vibe is very much related to the kind of games we played whilst growing up! It took us 15 years to do anything with John’s original idea but we’re glad we did!

Marcello: Roughly how long has the game been in development?

Tom: We started development in Feb 2013, thought we had been toying with the prototype or a few months before that. We actually finished development before xmas but had to sit tight to release at the right point and as part of the Vita Play Promotion in North America.

Marcello: When it came down to figuring out which platform you wanted to bring OlliOlli to, how did you make your decision?

Tom: Our first title, Gets To The Exit, was released on the App Store in July 2012, that experience was great for us in terms of taking a game from start to finish and actually releasing it but we realised that the type of games we want to make, (e.g. difficult ‘hardcore’ games) were not really thriving on the app store, and although the user base is huge, the audience is not there. At that point we made the decisions to move to console or steam and move away from the App stores. Once we met with Sony, it was their initial suggestion to take it to Vita, our concept demo was on iOS and seemed like a very natural move to go to a console handheld.

Marcello: There’s no question the PS Vita is a powerful handheld device. How was your experience developing on Sony’s latest handheld?

Tom: We were slightly underprepared to move from app dev to console dev, there is a wide world of new process and technical knowledge to get your head around. Our biggest challenge was loading the entire game in one go so you, the player, can get instant restarts and no in-game loading time. To do this we had to play with the memory allocation which started to become very tricky towards the end.

Marcello: OlliOlli’s control scheme and mechanics are intricate and immensely rewarding, blending that arcade style of Tony Hawk and authentic realism of SKATE, yet differentiating itself by setting a new bar. Where did the idea of the mechanics come about?

Tom: The main difference in our control scheme is pressing X to land. Although that sounds simple in passing, it determines how well you score in the game: Press X too early and get a sloppy landing, press X at the right time and you get a perfect landing that could be the difference of 200,000 points! That idea came from what it’s like to actually skateboard. Landing is the hardest part; most people can get the board to flip in the air but if you ever watch skateboarders live, it’s rare they land the trick. The X mechanic was designed to give you that feeling they get in skateboarding, you’ve not done the trick until you nail your landing!

Marcello: The game’s art style and soundtrack certainly compliment each other nicely. Can you discuss a bit about the visual and audio design of the game?

Tom: It’s interesting as the art and the music were worked on separately, so we’re happy they blend so well. The music was chosen based on what we listen to in the studio. We originally went with punk/skate music and tried some crazy electronica but the game is so intense and all about flow that we found more jazzy/ambient music fitted better and allowed you to focus on the game. The art style was developed over a year and was initially going to be far simpler, but as we progressed the character got more and more shaded!

Marcello: Now the game is a PlayStation Vita exclusive, but is there any chance of bringing it to another Sony platform like the PS3 and/or PS4?

Tom: For the moment, OlliOlli is a Vita exclusive and we want to concentrate on that for now. I think it’s managed to get extra coverage based on the fact it is a Vita Exclusive.

Marcello: There’s already plenty of content in OlliOlli, yet DLC is a big thing nowadays. Have you considered any future DLC for OlliOlli?

Tom: There is no DLC planned at the moment. We didn’t anticipate there being such a big response and audience to the game so it wasn’t in our initial plans. Never say never though!

Marcello: What’s next for Roll 7 after OlliOlli?

Tom: We’re actually working on our next two projects but I can’t reveal any info about them yet, but do watch this space!

Marcello: Any additional info you’d like to share with the readers?

Tom: We’d like to thank everyone who has supported us over the last few weeks by either buying the game, tweeting screenshots etc, OlliOlli wouldn’t be what it is without the people who play it so we’re just super hyped that people are enjoying it!

Marcello: Thank you so much again for your time Tom. We look forward to seeing what’s in store for the future of OlliOlli and the team over at Roll 7.

OlliOlli Review (PS Vita): “A New Standard for Skateboarding”

OlliOlli Logo Landscape

Decades ago, the sport of Skateboarding took storm across the United States. Over time, we’ve seen the sport make it’s way around the world. It’s popularity didn’t soar until roughly the time when legendary Tony Hawk wowed people from all over pulling off the first ever “900 Spin”. In the 80s, there was a retro skateboarding game called “720” that was quite the hit back in the arcades. During the 90s, the NES had a specific series called “Skate or Die”, which had two installments: the first being strictly about skateboarding events, while the sequel was an outlandish adventure. In 1999, we saw one of the most rewarding and groundbreaking skateboarding titles release, Tony Hawk Pro Skater. The game was a critical and public success that skateboarding itself really gaining a significant amount of attention. Since then, we’ve seen other game developers bring about their renditions of skateboarding titles, with the next biggest success residing with EA’s SKATE series. Now, UK-indie developer Roll7 has decided to rekindle the skateboarding genre with their title, OlliOlli on the PlayStation Vita. Does the developer pull off the “impossible”, or do they completely bail?

Junkyard Kickflip

OlliOlli is a 2D skateboarding platformer that meshed together the arcade style feel of Tony Hawk Pro Skater, while providing a complex and rewarding trick system that the SKATE series achieved. Remarkably, the game takes those two styles and perfects the mechanics in a way where it sets its own bar. OlliOlli brings you immediately into the gameplay, offering a tutorial that brings you up to speed in minutes. You’ll learn that OlliOlli is one of those games that’s simple to pickup-and-play, yet incredibly complex to master. Controls and tricks are mostly handled with the left analog stick (or D-Pad if you prefer), while kicking off for speed handled with the X button. Pulling off an ollie is simply done by pushing the analog stick down and letting go, while tricks are done by pushing the analog stick in a direction or rotation. Pressing the L/R buttons will result in you pulling off spins to your tricks, as well as nollies. To grind, you’ll simply press down on the analog stick, without any worries of balancing. Although you will have to be concerned on the amount of speed you can lose while grinding, which if you come to a halt, you’ll fall off your board and bail. Pretty straightforward so far, right? Well, now comes the intricate mechanics.

Base Helicopter Grind

Pulling off tricks and linking them together, between grinding and proper flip tricks, is quite intuitive and engaging to grasp. However, if you want all those hard-earned points to count, you’re going to have to land perfectly. That’s right, landing is actually a whole additional mechanic that can make or break your run…literally. To land a trick, you’ll have to press the X button, but at the proper timing. The time you press the X button will determine the rating you’ll receive, which also factors the amount of points you’ll earn. The rankings are as follows: Sloppy, Sketchy, Ok, Sick, and Perfect. Sloppy will net you only a few points, while Perfect will earn you thousands of points. Pulling off a Perfect landing is immensely rewarding and once you nail the timing, it’ll become second nature to achieve. Even when grinding, you’ll have to press down on the analog stick at the right time to earn a “perfect” grind. Doing so will actually affect the speed you maintain to grind. Maintaining a solid line and earning a perfect combo is what it’s all about if you want to rack up a ton of points.

The Career Mode will have you tackling 10 levels within five environments: Urban, Junkyard, Base, Port and Neon City. Five of the levels are handled on Amateur difficulty, while the other five are for Pro. Each level contains five objectives to complete, whether it be earning a high score, earning a high combo, completing a specific gap or line, collecting items, etc. To advance to the next level, you need to only reach the end of the run, even if you don’t complete any objectives. However, achieving all the objectives in a level will unlock the Pro level of that run. The levels will ramp up in difficulty and intensity nicely, without making the player feel degraded from what they’ve learned. Should you bail, it’s back to the beginning of a run. Luckily each run lasts for about 30-90 seconds. You’ll have to watch out for various obstacles, including grass, snow, stairs, spikes, barricades, etc. Now should you completely every objective in every level (both Amateur and Pro), you’ll unlock RAD Mode. RAD Mode will test out the most skilled players by success only being achieved solely through Perfect Grinds and Perfect Lands. Anything else will result in a seriously painful, run-ending bail.

Neon Five-O

Aside from the Career Mode, there are also 50 spots to take on. Every level you complete in the Career can be tackled in Spot Mode afterwards. Spot Mode has you doing a specific run in the level where it’s all about pulling off the highest score you can, all within a single combo. Your score will then be posted on the leaderboards, so you’ll be able to see where you rank amongst your friends and other players around the world. Additionally, Roll7 incorporated a Daily Grind Spot, where everyday you can partake in a single event against all players. You’ll be able to practice the run before posting for a score, and the reason you’ll want to do this is because you only get one shot at the run. Whatever score you get, even if you bail, is all that counts…no do-overs. Upon completing the run, you’ll see what rank you achieved worldwide throughout the 24 hour time period of the Daily Spot. It’s a terrific mode that has you coming back constantly. No matter which mode you’re playing in OlliOlli, you will certainly find yourself coming back for more, time and time again. Even after taking breaks from the game, I was always eager to jump immediately back in and try to perfect more runs.

Visually, OlliOlli is a nicely hand-drawn, retro-style game that harkens back to the classic days of gaming. Animations are fluid and detailed, while retaining the old-school vibe. The skater himself moves quite smoothly, even when bailing. The more he bails, the more of a beating you’ll notice on him where clothes will rip and blood will run down him. It’s nothing “too” bloody, but it’s a noticeable detail for added effect. Environments are nicely detailed as well, with numerous objects pertaining to specific areas. The Base area will have tanks and airplanes to grind on, while Neon City will have a bullet train speeding by in the background with neon signs and purple Godzillas to grind on. OlliOlli’s soundtrack is very suitable, accompanying the gameplay and setting very well. The sound effects are top-notch, with every audio clip perfectly matching the skateboarding and boarder perfectly. Whether you ollie, grind, land, trick, bail, or collect an item, it all sounds precisely like it should.

Port Crooked Grind

OlliOlli may be the PlayStation Vita’s first skateboarding game, but it’s one of the best games to grace the console since launch. Roll7 has delivered an amazingly rewarding and addictive skateboarding title that truly should not be missed. In the way Tony Hawk Pro Skater kept me coming back for more back in the day, OlliOlli achieves the same feel and experience that’s very much needed. Here’s hoping we see an OlliOlli sequel in the near future. Until then, back to perfecting lines I go.

Overall Score: 9.5 out of 10 = MUST BUY!

A special thank you to Roll7 for providing us the review copy for “OlliOlli”! Copy tested on the PS Vita.

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Atomic Ninjas Review (PS3/Vita): “Radiates Fun”

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You usually know what you’re getting when you go for a downloadable title, no matter the platform – bite-sized games with appropriately reduced prices. This isn’t to say that the downloadable market is bad in any way – it really stands in a league of its own right alongside the triple-A console market. However, you get what you pay for, and even the best gameplay experiences to be found in downloadable titles can be a bit light on content.

At least, that’s usually the case – unless you give Atomic Ninjas a try.  Developer (and publisher) Grip Games has come up with an engaging, exciting, and surprisingly bang-for-your-buck-worthy competitive multiplayer title. The game pits you (and your tiny acrobatic avatar) against up to three opponents, be they human or AI, in a race to complete a variety of objectives in a smattering of 2.5D arenas. Combat is a central part of the game, but rather than outright killing foes, your ninja makes use of a variety of weapons and gadgets to maneuver around the arena and knock opponents off the stage or into environmental hazards. Weapons and items are varied, from hard-hitting boxing gloves to swift and deadly shuriken, and grappling hooks to climbing claws and more. Killing an enemy gives you the chance to swap your hapless opponent’s weapon with your own, adding insult to injury while switching up your tactics in the process.

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It’s this randomness that stands as a core strength for the game’s fun factor, as so many elements of the game are switched from one round to the next, making it near-impossible to get bored. Games consist of a large variety of objectives, including Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, King of the Hill, Domination, and Treasure Hunt (a deadly take on keep-away), with free-for-all and team varieties of each present, sometimes within the same match! It’s really disorienting in the best way when you’re spending a few minutes trying to kill one player, only to be paired up with them the next. Toss-ups like this keep the gameplay extremely fresh and lend tremendous replay value to a genre that relies so heavily on it. Several game-changers come into play at the most appropriate times as well, such as entering an unstoppable “Noob Rage” mode when you’ve died several times in succession, and a “Power Play” state where for a limited time, everyone respawns instantly after death.

While these random tweaks will keep you engaged in every match, it’s the advancement options that will keep you coming back for more. Players initially start with a single character and power, but can unlock more by leveling up (with experience earned through play). Powers can be strengthened by completing Ninja Challenges, which require you to fulfill certain conditions within a game, like killing 5 opponents in a round or earning 250 points from flag captures. Combining the correct powers with the right weapons and items can really boost your effectiveness, and are great no matter what your play style is.

There’s several ways to get into the fight; Both platforms support online play with up to four players, as well as offline bot-matches, but the PS3 has the edge in its ability to field up to four players in split-screen competitive play. If a Wi-Fi connection isn’t available on your Vita, you’re stuck with bot-matches. This isn’t to say they aren’t fun, though – bots put up a good enough fight to keep things interesting, but sooner or later you’ll want to go head-to-head with other human opponents. Connecting to other players is currently a bit tricky, but will get better as the Atomic Ninjas player base grows.

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It really needs to be said that while Atomic Ninjas is light on story, its whimsical writing and hilarious presentation really make for an extremely enjoyable and light-hearted experience. I was laughing out loud during the majority of the tutorial level as the NPC instructed me in the basics of Atomic Ninjas play while pelting me with outrageous criticisms and deadpan deliveries. As for the ninjas themselves, Players can choose from a quirky cast of them, from the familiar silent-but-deadly shadow warriors to a brave, stoic samurai, a wise (but senile) Kung-Fu monk, and even a zombie ninja. Each character is fully voiced and features his own unique personality quirks. Each ninja will loose his own quips during a match when killing opponents, getting hit, or meeting an early (but brief) demise. However, nothing is quite as laughable as when a player enters “Noob Rage” mode, letting loose sounds more violent and gibbering than a Call of Duty player on a death streak (sorry guys – you know who you are). Character choices aren’t just important for presentation, though – each one starts with their own weapon and item, lending to a unique gameplay style right out of the gate. These aren’t set in stone, though, and your weapons and items can be swapped on-the-fly by finding item crates in the arena and killing opponents to steal their stuff.

Atomic Ninjas features a simple but pleasant cartoon style, with bright, vibrant colors and tiny, whimsical proportions. It’s a visual treat the whole time, but at the same time, isn’t particularly jaw-dropping. That’s fine, though – less to distract you from the action. The sound is another seesaw too – the voice work, sound effects, and music are all great and really lend to the atmosphere of the game, but a couple of technical problems keep them just shy of a perfect score. While playing on the Vita, there were rare occasions where music would lose its fidelity and static would become audible, which isn’t pleasant by any means, but is thankfully rare enough, seemingly only happening at the end of a match. This seems like an issue that Grip Games can squash with a future patch. Otherwise, there really isn’t much to complain about – the game is very well-balanced, but there were a couple of occasions where a really devious player could pin me in one spot with very little I could do to retaliate. This was especially bad when an opponent caught me in a corner while in Noob Rage – I was powerless to do anything to escape until the mode wore off, and it was extremely frustrating. However, it takes a lot to get into this sort of situation, and it taught me to stay away from dead ends when an opponent starts slavering.

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Atomic Ninjas stands out as one of the most addicting, engaging, and just plain fun downloadable titles of this year. The bite-sized game sessions lend themselves perfectly to the Vita’s pick-up-and-go nature, while the randomness of each moment will hook you for hours on end. Multiplayer is this game’s watchword, and it creates an extremely fun and competitive arena for players to duke it out with each other. A couple of technical issues mar Atomic Ninjas from a perfect score, but between the solid gameplay, hilarious presentation, and pleasant visuals, Atomic Ninjas is a game you won’t want to put down.

Overall Score: 9.0 out of 10 = BUY IT!

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Atomic Ninjas!

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“Injustice: Gods Among Us Ultimate Edition” Coming to PS4 & Vita, Skips Xbox One & Wii U

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Earlier this year, NetherRealm Studios released their superb DC fighter, Injustice: Gods Among Us for the PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii U. Over the months, the game received a solid amount of DLC and much like their Mortal Kombat series, Injustice will be receiving the same “komplete” edition which includes every piece of DLC. Today, Warner Bros. and NetherRealm Studios confirmed that “Injustice: Gods Among Us Ultimate Edition” will be headed to the PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox 360 and PC. This move brings the fighter to a next-gen platform, the PlayStation 4, as well as Sony’s portable PS Vita. What’s interesting is that there’s no mention of the game coming to the Xbox One or the Wii U.

When Ed Boon was asked about the Xbox One, here’s what he said:

“Um…I wouldn’t sell that 360 copy…”

While it’s strange that the Xbox One won’t receive a next-gen version of Injustice, it’s certainly exciting to hear that PS4 owners have a fighter to get excited for early into the console’s lifecycle. The Ultimate Edition will include all the DLC available now, as well as 40 additional character costumes and 60 new S.T.A.R. Lab Missions. Warner Bros. is stating that the Ultimate Edition contains $120 worth of content.

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Injustice: Gods Among Us Ultimate Edition will hit the PC, PS3, PS4, PS Vita and Xbox 360 on November 12th, 2013 in North America, and November 29th, 2013 in Europe. Will you be getting the Ultimate Edition? If so, which platform will you get it for?

[Source: Blogs.Games]

Real Boxing Review (PS Vita): “Real Boring”

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The PlayStation Vita has been graced with many fighting games over the course of its lifecycle. However, the one type of fighting/sports game that hasn’t hit the platform is a boxing game. Developer Vivid Games has taken up the task of bringing the very first boxing game to the Vita titled “Real Boxing”. Is the game a knockout or has it been TKO’d in the first round?

We’ve seen some pretty stellar boxing titles from Nintendo’s iconic Punch-Out!! series to EA’s successful Fight Night series. Punch-Out!! brought about a level of memorization and strategy in fights against zany characters that few games can even replicate, while Fight Night brought out a more realistic fight for boxing fans to relate to. With Real Boxing, boxing fans will get a mixture of an arcade-like experience with a realistic approach. When starting off the game, you’ll create the boxer of your choice. You’ll be able to choose the nationality your boxer represents, the pants color, gloves color, shoes color, tattoo on your back, chest and shoulders, the hair, mustache and lastly, beard. Each field has a decent amount of choices to choose between, but the main problem is you can’t alter the actual fighter’s face. No matter how much you customize your character, they will all look incredibly similar, making it seem like you’re fighting clones with variations. After creating and naming your boxer, you’ll be able to either take on the following: Quick Match, Career, Gym, or Multiplayer.

Real Boxing Gameplay 1

Quick Match is what you’d expect, just choose your opponent and dive straight into a match. However, Career is the game’s main event. There are three events to tackle: Roosters’ Tournament, Night of the Champions, and Boxing Legends. Each event contains 9 fights, with each fight progressively ramping up in difficulty as you’ll notice your opponent’s stats exceeding yours. When the match starts, you’ll watch your fighter’s intro before entering the ring. Once in there, the camera will be over-the-shoulder, but more on an angle than directly behind you (i.e. Punch-Out!!). There are several ways to control your punches in this game. The first is the standard face buttons. If you want more precision, you’ll use the right analog stick, which allows you to throw right punches with the right half of the stick, while throwing left punches with the left half of the stick. You’ll be able to throw jabs, hooks and uppercuts fairly easy and combo between your arms quicker. The third method is full touch control, which works very well. You’ll tap the screen for jabs (left half for left arm, right half for right arm), swipe across the screen for hooks and swipe upwards for uppercuts. You’ll tap and hold the bottom left icon to block, while tapping the bottom right icon to dodge attacks. More interestingly, the movement is controlled automatically when playing with touch controls. Unlike Fight Night, you and your opponent will have health bars to deplete, but like any boxing game, you have a stamina meter to keep an eye on. You can’t keep swinging away at your opponent and expect to not get tired out, so learning how to pace yourself is key. One of the more satisfying elements is the dodging mechanic. When you dodge a hit at the right time, the game will go into slow-motion, giving you an opportunity to dish out some heavy damage with a counterattack. If you or your opponent gets low on health, you’ll be able to enter a Clinch. This will require you to balance your Vita back and forth and maintain balance within the ever shrinking green meter. If your opponent clinches with you and you lose the clinch, they’ll gain some health back and vice versa if you initiate and win. The problem with this though is the sensitivity for tilting the Vita is incredibly high and makes this mini-game a serious chore and often frustration when initiated. The mechanics are all functional but playing against the AI rarely gets you engaged. Multiplayer fares a bit better though, which can be accessed both online or locally. You can choose between Single Fight and Tournament, and allows for you to invite a friend to match up against. There’s Leaderboard support as well. When playing online, I can say that the lag wasn’t too apparent and playing against an online opponent definitely makes for a more exciting experience.

That shoulder animates very oddly.

That shoulder animates very oddly.

Gym will allow you to train your fighter and upgrade his stats. You can upgrade the Strength, Stamina, and Speed attributes with the money you’ll earn from fights. Each category will start at 60% and as you upgrade, will cost more money to increase each attribute. Additionally, you can practice with four events: Heavy Bag Training, Jump Rope Training, Speed Bag Training, and traditional sparring. The purpose of these training events are to build up your perk meter so that you can unlock a new perk to attach to your fighter. You can choose from perks that allow you to drain less stamina from jabs or uppercuts, successfully winning a Clinch mini-game easier, getting up faster from a K.O., etc. The training mini-games all play a bit different. Heavy Bag and Speed Bag training will have you slapping the right analog stick in a specific direction at the right time. Successfully hitting it will build up your perk unlock meter and the better you time it (Perfect, Great, or Good ratings), the quicker the meter will fill. Jump Rope will have you pressing the L and R buttons at the proper time, with basically the same premise as the other two training sessions. These are decent mini-games to pass time for earning perks but there are a few issues. First off, you can only do a training session once until you complete an actual career event. Secondly, the Heavy Bag and Speed Bag training require you to push the right analog stick diagonally quite often…and it registers quite inaccurately. There were several times where I’d push the analog diagonally in the same direction twice in a row and it’d register one of them perfectly, while the other not at all. For the record, my Vita is in perfect condition and works flawlessly with any other game that uses the right analog stick, so I know this is a mechanical issue in the game.

Not only is she super anorexic...she bit part of her wrist off as a meal.

Not only is she super anorexic…she bit part of her wrist off as a meal.

Real Boxing is powered by Unreal 3 Engine and looks pretty nice texture-wise. However, character models are very generic and have incredibly stiff animations. As I stated earlier, every character will look like clones of each other with only slight variations to them. Animations are ok, but when throwing hooks you’ll notice a jarring shoulder animation where it looks like the shoulder is made out of rubber and twists. It’s just weird looking. Additionally, the girl that shows the Round card before getting back into the fight looks more anorexic than the Olsen twins and this is the only girl that shows off what round you’re in…no matter the country you fight in. The crowd around the ring looks good, as well as the ring itself. The audio does a serviceable job of capturing the sound of the ring, with punches sounding appropriate and the crowd roaring in the background. The announcer on the other hand is just plain irritating. When counting down for the opponent to be down for good, you’ll hear a very nasally and squeaky voice counting and you just can’t help but question, “Really? That’s the best voice they could go with?”

Real Boxing Gameplay 4

Real Boxing may be the very first boxing title on the PlayStation Vita but that doesn’t mean it’s good. While it’s a serviceable game that is occasionally enjoyable, it’s ultimately a very forgettable experience that won’t have you coming back for much. If you plan on playing online, you’ll definitely get more enjoyment that route but don’t expect a big community for it. What’s here is decent but it’s just hard for me to recommend, even at the budget asking price of $9.99. Only die-hard boxing fans need apply here…otherwise, move on.

Overall Score: 6.0 out of 10 = Proceed with caution…

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Real Boxing!

Enjoy our review? Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter: @GamersXTREME for the latest in gaming news and reviews.

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Monster Hunter is Finally Coming to the PS Vita, and What This Means for Sony’s Portable Platform

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Monster Hunter, the series responsible for the booming success of the PSP in Japan, has been a scarcity on Sony Consoles recently. What was once almost an exclusive series has now branched out to a variety of different consoles, all except the Vita. Seeing as the Vita doesn’t have an overwhelmingly impressive library, and it is in fact the successor to the PSP, one would think a new Monster Hunter title should have been announced by now for the impressive yet struggling handheld. It is well known and clear to almost everyone that one thing that could save the Vita from ending up like the PSP Go! is a Monster Hunter game; so it is with much relief that we finally have news of the series coming to the Vita.

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Just last night at the Tokyo Game Show 2013, we received a trailer showcasing the already announced Monster Hunter Frontier G, only this time it was shown on a Vita background. We knew MHFG was coming to PS3 and WiiU, so this is a nice surprise. Now, MHFG is not a new game by any means. It is a direct port from the long time running Monster Hunter Frontier Online, an MMO that’s been available in Japan and Korea on PC for the better part of the last decade (and Xbox 360 for a shorter time). It’s remained wildly successful due to the constant updates it receives. These updates are not mere fixes; they are large game packs that are free to everyone (as everyone pays a subscription to play) which includes new monsters, areas, weapons, armor and different weapon movements. The “new” MHFG will pick up where MHFO is, with the newest installment package and everything that goes with it. While the team is considering adding console specific additions – such as trophies for PS3 – the game will be an exact copy.

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The newly announced Vita version will be compatible with the PS3 version, although there may be some content left out (which has yet to be explained). Now, what does this mean for the Vita? Quite simply. It’s hope. The Vita has been struggling to make large sales anywhere, and this should give it a nice shot in the arm. However, keep in mind that MHFG isn’t new, those who already have it on PC as MHFO may be less likely to purchase a new console for the same game – however it is Japan and a truly portable online Monster Hunter is quite the deal. I personally think it will do quite well in Japan, which will do wonders for the Vita right now.

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But Japan gets all of the MH love? What about the West? Well that remains to be seen. I personally highly doubt the localization of MHFG. Why? Because we’re not Monster Hunter crazy over here. A port of a game that hasn’t had an upgrade to the engine in its long lifespan won’t impress many newcomers to the series. And with the (unverified but probable) subscription to play, there will be even less interested. Now, could we simply import MHFG? Thus boosting sales in general, benefitting the Vita and showing that it is worth investing? Ultimately pushing developers and publishers to localize more games to the West? Probably not. The reason MHFO never made it big in the West was because of the verifications it required in playing online. You needed legitimate Japanese/Korean personal information for the subscription, a system that could be used for MHFG. Perhaps we will get lucky and see the subscription go through PSN or the Nintendo Store, in that case it would be much easier to play, once overcoming the vast language barrier that will have to be relearned with every new update.

In the end, Monster Hunter may in fact save the Vita, but I’m not so sure that us in the West will realize it.

Killzone: Mercenary Review (PS Vita): “Money Talks, and You Should Listen”

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Set in a futuristic, war-torn world, Killzone: Mercenary thrives off of the steam from the past 2 major entries in the series. With KZM exclusive to the PlayStation Vita, there are some expected differences that one would expect to notice. Do those differences boost the effectiveness of a First Person Shooter on a handheld device? Or do they hold the title back, ultimately placing it with other failed attempts at creating an FPS on the go?

Story: 4/5

Guerilla Cambridge’s Killzone: Mercenary takes an interesting look at the events that have already perspired in both Killzone and Killzone 2. While it never directly impacts the events that have already taken place, it does help explain how some feats could have happened – that is, all along there was this small force of Mercenaries which helped turn the war one way or another, regardless if we had no idea at the time.

You play as Arran Danner, a mercenary who lends his particular skillset out to whoever pays the most. Through contracts via either the ISA or Helghast, Danner sets out to accomplish a variety of different tasks which all help turn the tides of the ongoing war between the two major forces. To really understand what is going on, Cambridge sets up a beautifully narrated and quick-to-the-point recap of what has happened up to this point – that is, up to the time of Killzone. Two political parties get into a feud on the planet Vekta, a futuristic Earth-like planet. When a civil war breaks out, the dominant party (the ISA) kicks out the Helghast, banishing them to the poor and desolate mining planet of Helghan. The environment on this planet is so harsh that many of the people die, yet those who survive become stronger, both physically and mentally. In order to endure the planet’s harsh environment, the Helghast develop certain equipment which fends off the radiation, heat and other elements. This gives the Helghast their well-known look of always wearing gas masks of some sort. Although the Helghast were banished from Vetka, they didn’t give up on their right to live there and therefore, through the climb to power by ruthless dictator Visari, planned a surprise attack on Vetka.

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This is where the game starts. The ISA are in dire trouble, being caught off guard and overwhelmed by the Helghast’s superior technology. One of the ISA’s main commanders is held captive, and in order to win the war, they need her alive and by their side. By sending in Danner to rescue her, the ISA realizes that they can use Mercenaries to help in the more pertinent missions while the main forces defend the front lines.

Move ahead 2 years. The rest of the game takes place within the time frame of Killzone 2. The ISA, with the help of Danner and his crew, have repelled the Helghast back to their home planet. The ISA needs to retaliate to finish this war that the Helghast have started, yet they are still no match for the Helghast’s superior weaponry. However, an opportunity opens up for the ISA to seize control of the situation. A Helghan scientist is willing to defect, providing all sorts of knowledge for the ISA, as well as holding the knowledge of a secret weapon the Helghast intend to use. Danner’s main mission henceforth is to intercept the scientist and bring him to the ISA for questioning. However, some interesting information comes to light when Danner is turned upon, thus forcing him to aid the Helghast military leader at the time, Kratek. What happens next in the war between the ISA and Helghast is up to one man.

Killzone: Mercenary is set up across 9 missions, and much to my surprise, each mission flowed together quite well. There was never any time where I felt I had missed something, despite the game being segmented. KZM had a very interesting and catchy theory: take something that’s already happened and throw a twist on it all to show how it could have turned out. By tying the story into previous titles it was easy to follow along (so long as you have played Killzone and Killzone 2) but not necessary to the plot. I took a special amount pleasure in seeing key events that took place in the past entries reappear in this side-title, such as when Visari nuked his own city. Overall, I felt that the story, while well thought-out and entirely believable in the previously established events, lacked a certain amount of pull on the player. I wouldn’t say the story did well on its own, but with the knowledge of everything else that is going on (carefully detailed before each mission) it adds a certain richness to the entire series.

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Gameplay: 5/5

There have been a few attempts at releasing a First Person Shooter on the Vita, or any handheld gaming device for that matter, and none have really made it to the acceptable mark. Yet, what most have tried to do, Guerrilla Cambridge has succeeded in doing. Utilizing the dual analog sticks along with minor touch screen/pad function and staying true to the feel of a Killzone game has surprisingly worked on the Vita, and all of us who still have a Vita are thrilled!

While I do recommend turning up the sensitivity, KZM feels incredibly natural. The physics and inertia are all reminiscent of past entries in the series, which really helps the veteran jump right in. Cambridge has brought back several guns and equipment, as well as added quite a few alterations of certain weapons to create the largest armory in the Killzone series yet. In addition to your primary, secondary and equipment, you can also change out your armor to fit your specific needs, and there is an entirely new system titled VAN-Guards, which are essentially killstreaks that can be used in both multiplayer and single player. All of the equipment and weapons you acquire can be purchased through a mysterious seller who thrives off of conflict, Black Jack. Throughout the game you’ll find supply caches where you can change out your gear or resupply, which you will desperately need as ammo reserves are low throughout the story.

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Killzone: Mercenary tries something that not many FPS have. KZM allows you to play through the entire game stealthily. Whenever you enter a new area in the story, (with the exception of a few laid out circumstances) enemies are unaware of your existence. By playing it low, you can avoid a large amount of reinforcements in every scenario, thus making your job a whole lot easier. While this is a great and challenging idea, it isn’t perfectly executed. There were many times when enemies would spot something a downed enemy who happened to be laying behind cover 200 yards away, thus blowing my covert op. At the same time, I was able to clearly walk past an enemy without him noticing, so I suppose there was some give and take there.

While playing it low and slow can make the entire experience smoother (albeit still very, VERY challenging), there is some gratification in large massacres as a one man army. Luckily, KZM still allows you to play this way as well! In fact, there are 4 specific ways to play, which become unlocked upon one completion of the story. You can play it normally (however you want, no rules), stealth, precision or demolition. Each of the 3 additional ‘modes’ have specific goals you need to meet in a mission- i.e.: get 50 headshots, get 30 kills from behind, destroy a tank with a VAN-Guard.

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Even though there are many different ways to progress through the story, easily seen by marvelously designed levels fitted with multiple paths (quite possibly the best I have ever seen in a shooter), I still felt as though I was doing the same thing every mission. Stealth for a little while, get caught, fight off hoards upon hoards of enemies, get to objective, initiate hack/demolition, fight off more hoards of enemies, barely escape on a cruiser, repeat 8 more times. The overall experience is however broken up by a clever puzzle “hacking” system in which you can gain access to intel, open locked doors, etc. In this sequence, you utilize the touch screen by matching certain shapes to a pad. Match all the shapes in the time allotted and you’ve won the small gratification that comes with completing such a simple, yet often adrenaline pumping puzzle.

All in all, the gameplay is reliably fun and enticing. It truly feels like an FPS and though there are a few issues, such as the cover system not cooperating when you really need it to, you’ll never sit back after a death and have to blame awkward controls.

One thing that the Vita really needs is a game that will hold you for a while – after all, we’re not getting many (if any) system sellers (MH plug) to keep you interested in using your Vita. Thankfully, Guerrilla Cambridge answered our prayers with Killzone: Mercenary. Every part about this game screams “play me some more!” The best part about KZM is that, at its heart, it is a mobile game. The missions are set up to be played quickly, and online matches can take anywhere from a very short 5 minutes to a riveting 20 minutes!

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As mentioned earlier, there are 4 ways to go through the story; and with the objectives that go with each play style you could be playing for a while just trying to complete one mission. Even though the story isn’t long by any means, (I completed it on veteran difficulty in about 5 hours, and I took my damn time retrying levels and exploring) this push to play the story different ways makes the game already quadruple in replay value.

Of course, there is also the fact that Killzone: Mercenary has a fully functional multiplayer, albeit a few bugs here and there (which hopefully will get worked on very soon). KZM’s multiplayer takes a step to the side from past Killzone entries, which at first disturbed me, until I kept playing and found that I was loving, and dominating, the online!

KZM does away with the previous class system, and instead implements a more general system of creating a loadout. You unlock 5 loadouts as you rank up, each can be equipped with a primary, secondary, armor, equipment and VAN-Guard via Black Jack’s armory. The wonderful thing about KZM is that Black Jack’s armory carries over between single player and multiplayer; meaning that anything you buy in one game mode will transfer to the other, including money earned! This really helps new players jump into the online without a worry as to being under-equipped.

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The general gameplay of the multiplayer has stayed the same however. There are 3 modes to choose from: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Warzone. Warzone is a collaboration of different game modes bundled into one match; performing objectives will earn your team points, the team with the most point at the end wins. Modes range from standard team deathmatch, a stealthy interrogation mode, to a capture the VAN-Guard mode. VAN-Guards are present in two ways in multiplayer. The first is simply a random drop and accessing it gives you a random VAN-Guard to use. The second is through a game mode in warzone, as mentioned, where you need to hack the VAN-Guard using the shape matching sequence found in single player to earn you and your team points.

Each match will pit 8 players against one another, and thankfully the beautifully designed maps are the perfect size for these skirmishes. During any online gameplay, a kill will reward you with a dropped valor card which you can pick up. These valor cards are a representation of the skill of the player you just killed. They are categorized by weapon type, and range from 2 to Ace. For instance, if someone were a top notch sniper, they would have an Ace of Spades card; if they are a very poor assault rifle user they would have a 2 of clubs. Collecting these cards will net you XP/cash, but more importantly, collecting an entire deck will net you a large boost of cash! The little details like this really add to the overall experience and make for an enjoyable and lengthy career online.

While there are some issues that need to be worked out, such as parties being able to join together, or some lag and awful respawns, the multiplayer truly gives you your $40 worth alone. That, combined with the daunting task of going for platinum, will really give you your money’s worth.

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Graphics: 5/5

Killzone has been known for its impeccable graphical quality. While using what is essentially the KZ3 engine, one would expect KZM to deliver the same quality on the powerful Vita. To no one’s surprise, Cambridge was able to do just that. The lighting and shadow effects are glorious in each mission, and the attention to detail is a force to be reckoned with. Multiple times throughout the story, there are cinematic-appearing cutscenes in which you can actually look around, and I strongly encourage that everyone does so to get a feel for how wonderful this game looks. In the first mission alone, you glide through the Vetka skyline and you can feel the weight of the war just by what you see.

Throughout gunfire from dozens of enemies and a vast section of area, there are no frame rate drops; though at many times there were what appeared to be slight pauses where the game needed to catch up – primarily in between sections and/or when exiting Black Jack’s supply caches. (After the infrequently frequent occurrences, I deduced that this was not a general frame rate drop but merely issues jumping from small amounts of detail to very large due to the fact that I never encountered it when I would have thought)

At one point in the story, I was actually blinded by the light cast between an enemy’s legs, I had to stop for a second not only to figure out what to do to see, but to admire how well the effects represented themselves. While some particle effects could have been a little cleaner, such as dust clouds in the distance, I can honestly say that this is one of the best looking Vita games out there.

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Sound: 4/5

There is nothing more satisfying than the kill chirp that emits upon finishing and enemy, except of course the over gratifying melon-pop noise that comes with a sniper headshot. Thankfully, Guerilla Cambridge made sure to include all of the traditional Killzone sound effects into this latest installment, and for that I couldn’t be happier.

Seeing as a large part of the game is based around stealth, it also makes sense to really showcase some essential noises into the environment as you’re traversing through the story. Being able to hear your own footsteps as you approach an enemy helps you learn that you need to take it slow, or risk being noticed. Other cues such as character dialogue between AI in the middle of a mission help key you in to what they’re thinking. While some of the voice acting is a little over the top (I’m looking at you Russian Vampire Lord Black Jack), you rarely find yourself believing the characters aren’t invested in what is going on.

The only noticeable setback is the soundtrack to the game. Killzone 2 had an iconic menu song, and Killzone 3 made its best attempt, and coming close, at one as well. However, not once did I really find myself getting engrossed in a musical score. While this is quite a disappointment to me, it doesn’t deter from the overall gameplay experience as you have other things to worry about.

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Overall Score: 18/20 = 9.0 out of 10

In the end, Killzone: Mercenary truly provides an amazing experience on the PlayStation Vita. It feels like a shooter you’d play on a console, and with a multiplayer to match, it is a force to be reckoned with. I can safely say that the quality and quantity holds up well to its predecessors and should be in every person’s Vita library.

PROS:

+ Incredible graphics, especially for a handheld

+ Great controls and feel

+ Addictive multiplayer

+ Lots of ways to progress through the story

CONS:

-Some bugs with the cover system

-Story progression can get repetitive when not going for a specific play-style

Copy purchased by author for review purposes.

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